AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) - Doctors all over the country are over-prescribing medication to their patients, and the Panhandle is no exception.
According to the National Safety Council, 99% of primary care doctors routinely prescribe painkillers for longer than a three-day period.
In the Panhandle, doctors are mainly over prescribing painkillers and heart medications.
"We always see a lot of pain medication and those are used basically on an as needed basis, so it makes sense for some of those to come back," said Jeanie Jaramillo, Managing Director of the Texas Panhandle Poison Center. "Patients are bringing back 75% of what they were given, sometimes even more."
Almost 1,500 pounds of unused medications were collected during the Texas Panhandle Poison Center's last medication clean out event. Since 2009, they have collected 30,000 pounds of unused medications in the Texas Panhandle area.
Jaramillo said the problem stems from doctors being in the habit of prescribing a 30-day supply of medication, even when a patient doesn't need it.
"Our prescribers are accustomed to serving patients, they want to provide good customer service," Jaramillo said. "They don't want their patients to have pain and we're use to giving patients a 30-day supply of medication, so we need to change that from the prescriber perspective and start giving them smaller quantities of medication. Perhaps with a refill, have them come back in if they need after that."
She also said a new rating system for Medicaid and Medicare is adding to the problem.
"We're seeing a transition for reimbursement by the government for patients who are on Medicare and Medicaid, they're changing reimbursement to partially include patient's satisfaction," Jaramillo said. "So, if we have patients who are asking their prescriber for pain medication the prescriber says 'No, I don't want to give you that much, it's not good for you,' that can result in a poor customer satisfaction rating and less reimbursement for the organization."
IMS Health estimates patients, insurers, government programs, and other payers spent a combined $309.5 billion last year on prescription medicines.
Jaramillo said since medications turned in during clean out are incinerated, people are losing a huge chunk of money.
"Because so many medications are left over and not used we're basically sending them for incineration, there's a lot of waste occurring, and that's a loss of money to taxpayers, to insurance, and ultimately the patients pay the price in their insurance premiums," Jaramillo said.
Jaramillo believes the way to fix the problem is for doctors to begin tailoring a prescription to an individual patient's needs and to have patients tell their doctors if they feel they're being given too much or if they want to start on a smaller dose.
"From the public side we need to understand that it's not the best for us to get a huge quantity of medication, so even though our insurance may pay for a full month supply if we're getting a new medication we should only get a small quantity to see if we tolerate it before we get that three month supply," Jaramillo said.
However, she feels that's a Catch-22, because people always want more bang for their buck.
"As a society we want to get the most for our dollars, so if we can get a 30 count bottle or 60 count bottle and our insurance will pay for it than that's usually what we want," Jaramillo said. "We've got to change our frame of mind about that and be open to getting a smaller quantity so we can reduce the risk in our home."
Currently, Texas doesn't not allow medications to be donated once they have been given out to patients, but that may soon change.
"We're working to get those laws changed so that medications that are still in a sealed container could be donated through a certain process," Jaramillo said.
Jaramillo said over prescribing medications can lead to addiction, so the best thing to do is get rid of extra pills.
"We need to actually dispense less medication and not have this accumulation in the homes, that would help reduce the risk of poisonings and abuse as well," Jaramillo said.
If you would like to dispose of any medications you aren't using before the next medication cleanout, there are drop bins out the Sheriff's Office and outside the School of Medicine at Texas Tech.
For further information visit the medication cleanout website or call 806-414-9495.